We have a problem. The conservative party has for decades been rotting inside due to the cancer of Euroscepticism. Cameron, seeing how Labour was disintegrating post-financial crisis, saw the opportunity to settle the matter and consolidate his position (and that of Osborne as the heir presumptive), by pulling the rug from under the Eurosceptics via holding a referendum.
On the morning of 24 June we discovered what a horrible idea that was. The country has voted by a narrow margin (52%) to leave the EU. As every single expert and institution worldwide has already pointed out this is a very bad idea. I have made my position clear on the issue aplenty. The purpose of this post is not to convince you that Brexit is a bad idea, it is to see how it can be avoided with the least minimal disruption.
A few things we need to be cleared up first. The current parliament was elected in May 2015 (it is at the beginning of its 5 year term). Out of the 650 MPs, about 160 have declared their support to leave the EU. The EU Referendum Act of 2015 makes the referendum advisory to parliament (it is advisory as opposed to binary as it is said). A core UK constitutional principle is Parliamentary supremacy. Actually this was one of the main slogans of the Leave campaign, to give Parliament control. Well, Parliament does and always did have control, and is hugely in favour of Remain.
The question is how to ignore the referendum result without creating a popular revolt and constitutional crisis. Here we can learn a lot from the ultimate political volte-face of recent years, the transformation of Mr Tsipras of Greece from EU basher to EU poodle. Greece held its referendum on a deal with its creditors in the summer of 2015 (summer seems to be the time for referenda all around). This was a defining political moment in Greece where the forces of independence and dignity and self-determination were pitted against the purveyors of a discredited status quo (this was the spin anyway). Does this ring a bell? The Greek people, in their naivety, bought this load of codswallop and obliged Mr Tsipras by handing him a decisive victory (it wasn’t even close, 61% voted to reject European ‘demands’).
What happened next is where this gets interesting. Mr Tsipras armed with a renewed mandate went to Brussels where he quickly, completely and utterly capitulated, accepting a much worse set of terms than the ones previously on offer. He is still in power. This tells us two things about the Brexit situation. First, the Europeans do not negotiate under duress. One can yell and blackmail, but this gets no reward from Brussels. In the same way that Tsipras was threatening Europe holding a gun to his own head, Leave is threatening national implosion to cajole Europe into something. This has not and cannot work. Second, it is possible to run a massively damaging fiesta (banks closed and capital controls were introduced due to Tsipra’s fun referendum idea), divide the nation, stir up age old hatreds, and then at the drop of a hat change your mind. People will go for it.
You must be thinking now the Brits are not as stupid as the Greeks. To that I am telling you not to worry. People who heard demonstrably false claims and chose to believe them are equally stupid to everyone else who goes through the same nationalistic, jingoistic, prideful experience. But things are not going the same way as Greece surely you may say, Cameron has already resigned, while Tsipras stayed on. Ok, I’ll give you that Cameron has more shame than Tsipras (or perhaps is less in control). But there is nothing to say that Parliament cannot ignore the EU referendum result the same way that the Greek government immediately forgot about its ‘victory’.
The issue as we said is how to back away from the referendum without this appearing like disregarding the popular will and solidifying the division in the country by introducing allegations of a coup. The answer is to exploit the disconnect between the ‘supposed’ will of the people as expressed in the referendum and the will of the people as expressed in May 2015. In other words, we can get out of this mess via a general election. People have pointed this out already, but here is how it could work without undermining democracy in the country. Parliament is being asked to respect the referendum, while having been elected on a different basis. Also, leaving the EU is not the same thing as nuking the economy by losing access to the single market. One could legitimate argue a series of things therefore: 1) You cannot expect the vast majority of Remain supporting MPs to vote for Brexit 2) You cannot expect a Remain supporting government (PM aside) to negotiate Brexit 3) You cannot assume that the people who voted for Brexit indeed support the hard core, hard landing that appears now to be the only option. This creates a legitimate demand for a new general election where parties reconfigure themselves along Brexit/Remain lines and a Leave government proposal is put to the people. They would never win enough MPs to actually form a Leave government and if they did, well good riddance to them.
Sounds plausible? Well, you could always drag things on, let people forget what happened this June and as they are suffering a recession caused by uncertainty say that you won’t go for Brexit anyway due to adverse economic impacts. But, a general election would be a better way of dealing with things and keeping discontent on track. Will people buy it? Yes, because it happens to be correct. Is disregarding the Referendum result offensive to the democratic process? Maybe, but it is more offensive to me that people voted for Brexit on the basis of lies, racism, bigotry and fantasy. The duty of Parliament is to preserve the nation, not to pander to the idiotic fantasies of people like Farage. I was hoping that the British were better than the Greeks. They are not.
On a side note, the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act prevents early elections unless a motion for an early general election is agreed either by at least two-thirds of the whole Parliament or without division; or a motion of no confidence is passed and no alternative government is confirmed by the Commons within 14 days. Because of this we need the help of the Labour party. The Parliamentary Labour Party should remove Corbyn and work together with Remain MPs from other parties to trigger an election. Is this a God awful mess? Yes it is, but the alternative is years long economic mayhem and eventual Brexit. Time to stop pussyfooting around and come up with a viable solution. Time to instigate a ‘coup’.